This July, in the sprawling gallery space of Arario Beijing, Mumbai based artist Jitish Kallat presents his fifteenth solo exhibition titled ‘365 Lives’. This is his debut solo project in Beijing and the first major solo of any Indian Artist in the People’s Republic of China.
Kallat’s work, oscillating between the twin codes of pop and agitprop, addresses classic themes of survival and the endless narratives of human struggle. In the highly populated city of Mumbai where he lives, the enterprise of daily existence is pushed to the extreme and this continually percolates his practice. The exhibition will be split across four distinct rooms, such that different bodies of work can be seen separated from each other, allowing four or five parallel readings to be assimilated slowly. Below is a short note on some of the works in the show.
The show derives its title from one of the central pieces in the project. ‘365 Lives’ is a room-scaled photo installation with 365 closely detailed photographs of dented automobiles in the city. In one glimpse, the individual pieces appear like visually seductive colour fields; in time they transmogrify into wounds becoming an inventory of daily quakes in urban existence or a seismographic record of a city’s erratic heartbeat, registered through this epic chronicle of scarred vehicular surfaces. The heroic scale, along with the freight of meaning inscribed in the title, is central to the reading of the work.
‘Conditions Apply’ is a seven-part, backlit, photo-piece made on the flatbed scanner. Displayed in a dark room, the large translites in one glance appear like the faces of a waning moon; on closer inspection they turn out to be leftovers of bitten up rotis as if the twin metaphors of deprivation and hope are morphed into one composite image.
The suite of 54 works titled the ‘Analgesic Studies’ began in 2005 and was built over a period of one and a half years allowing for a wide range of images to permeate the series. The imagery, varying from sinful politicians to sexy porn-stars, vicious monsters to movie stars, generously draws from the varied languages of mass media, the quirkiness of the political cartoon, the pages of a couturier’s sketchpad or the cartographer’s charts, mixing bloody imagery with fruity colours, high-art painterly language with low-art effects. What began as a doodler’s casual enterprise a year and a half ago, became a full-bodied folio of pictorial ideas, attempted in a spirit of adventure and play.
The large sculptural work, occupying almost 500 sq feet of floor space titled ‘Eight Forty Seven’ is made up of 14 half-built flyovers arranged such that they form the figures ‘8:47’, a frozen moment in time. Thousands of tiny toy-cars, busses, trucks and other images such as fallen trees, a deity carried on religious processions, cows, dogs etc. were cast in wax, melted down and then re-cast in translucent resin. Visually, the work has fragility of wax; the melting at once evokes chaos, catastrophe, violence, floods and a multitude of images one associates with the Indian street.
Yet another cast-resin sculpture, forming 2-meter ring holds up a plethora of images melting into each other. Is this an image of a flyover so burdened with swelling traffic that it warps and collapses into a motionless circle? Is it a city rendered as a wreath, a clock, a wheel, a deflated flat tyre?
A series of large portraits of young street children titled ‘Carbon Milk’ forms a key part of the exhibition. These are double portraits; the portrait of the city as a crumbling cascade of countless narratives interlaces with the overgrown locks of children as if they were raconteurs of the city’s inner secrets. Formally speaking, the paintings obtain their tenor from the fleeting pop poop on television, the retinal code of the billboard and the fierce economy of agitprop posters.